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Tuesday, November 21, 2017

BRIT—WEST: RIDING THE RANGE WITH JO WALPOLE

BRIT—WEST: RIDING THE RANGE WITH JO WALPOLE
 
During its long love affair with the Western, England has produced a long list of iconic genre writers, most of whom have never been West of the Mississippi. Bestselling Western authors such as J. T. Edson (English author of 137 Westerns, many of which are still in print), Matt Chisholm/Cy James/Luke Jones (all pseudonyms for Peter Watts), and the revered Piccadilly Cowboys (the subject of an upcoming blog post) have all made significant, enduring, and popular contributions to the Western genre. This Brit-West tradition continues today with a number of English authors gaining popular acclaim for their six-gun shoot-‘em-ups.
 
Over the next few blog posts, I’ll be sharing interviews with a few of England’s current Western genre practitioners. First to pull up a seat around the chuck wagon campfire is Joanne ‘Jo’ Walpole...Joanne’s first western was published in 2005. Since then she has written five more westerns, one civil war drama and a collection of contemporary shorts published under her own name and her better known pseudonym Terry James. She is currently writing a new series under the pseudonym, Joe Slade. She lives in central England with her husband Terry, where she reads, walks, follows current affairs, and continues writing westerns.
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If it was tacked up in the Sheriff’s office, what information would be on a Wild West wanted poster with your picture on it?
 
WANTED
ALIVE
JO WALPOLE
aka Terry James
aka Joe Slade
Responsible for writing Westerns since 2005
Including, 5 Black Horse Westerns
New series: Maggie O’Bannen
REWARD
Free Cake And Sandwiches
 
What was your introduction to Westerns—movies, TV, or books?
 
Definitely TV. Definitely Alias Smith and Jones when I was a young child. I still watch the series from time to time. I love the dynamic between Heyes and Curry, their unbreakable friendship, and the humor.
 
What was the first Western you read?
 
I can’t remember, but I’d guess it was by Louis L’Amour, possibly Sackett. It’s definitely the first one that registers on my radar. Although I don’t read much L’Amour nowadays, he is one of my all time favorites and definitely an inspiration with his strong sense of justice and solid values.
 
What was it about the genre you found compelling enough for you to want to write a Western?
 
The good vs bad or white hat vs black hat element. It always seemed very clear-cut in the Saturday afternoon John Wayne, Glenn Ford type movies. I’m also a romantic at heart, so the guy getting the gal at the end was also a draw. Nowadays, I like it because it was a simpler time—no CCTV, no fast cars, no gadgets.

Had you written books before, or was your first Western your literary debut?

My first Western—actually, a romance/western crossover—called Raven Dove was my first full book. Prior to that, I never seemed to get further than chapter three. However, I think the first full story I ever wrote would have been classed as a novella and revolved around footballers (soccer players) and their wives. I was about thirteen, so it wouldn’t have been very sophisticated. However, Westerns have always been the mainstay of my writing life, which was verified when a school friend who I hadn’t seen for 30 years contacted me on social media and asked, Do you still write Westerns? Do you still like Clint Eastwood?
 
Were you aware of the legacy of the Piccadilly Cowboys and their impact on the genre before you started writing Westerns?

No, I wasn’t. Until I joined the Black Horse Western stable of writers and started meeting my peers for the first time, Piccadilly Cowboys had never even blipped on my radar. Through discussions on forums and the like, I became more widely aware of the world of Western fiction—including the Piccadilly Cowboys and their contribution.

How do you see the current state of the Western genre?

It seems to be very buoyant, especially with e-books entering the mainstream. The variety of available stories is amazing. There is something for everyone from traditional to ultra violent with everything in between. The release of old classic series—like Edge and Crow—and authors like John Benteen and JT Edson in to digital format is great, especially now their paperbacks are getting harder to come by. However, I despair at the Westerns being made into movies, which seem to promote art over action. Give me a straight forward, standard John Wayne Western any day.
 
What was your journey to getting your first Western published?
 
It wasn’t really a journey—more of a trip and fall. In 2003, I joined a romance forum on the Internet, and one of the sub-categories was work in progress. I started writing and posting a chapter at a time of an idea I’d always wanted to turn in to a novel. I received a lot of good feedback and advice. Before I knew it, I had a complete story. I thought I was done with it, but the people on the forum badgered me to submit it to a publisher, so I picked Whiskey Creek Press—because they were Internet based and it was an easy option. I sent it off just to stop people pestering me. I hadn’t thought about being published, didn’t consider myself good enough, and just wanted to get the refusal so I could wave it in their faces and say now leave me alone. As it turned out, I received a contract back by return e-mail.

Did you choose to use a gender ambiguous pseudonym for your first Westerns, or did Black Horse ask you to do it? What was your reasoning, or theirs?

I chose Terry James for two reasons. Firstly, I thought a man's name would be more acceptable on the cover of a genre read mostly by men. This quickly became irrelevant as I became known on forums, etc. Secondly, I picked Terry James as this is my husband's name, and I liked the idea.

With your Maggie O’Bannen series, you’ve again chosen to use a male pseudonym, but your real name and gender is acknowledged in the promotional author bio. Why choose Joe Slade this time and not go with Jo Walpole or Josephine Slade?
 
When I first decided to write the Maggie O'Bannen series, I was in two minds whether to reveal it was by me. I had a vision of graphic sex and violence, and I wasn't sure I wanted to be personally associated with it. However, friends seemed to think I should, and no one except me seemed to bat an eyelid at the content, which I find a bit shocking in places to be honest. So, when Piccadilly asked me for a bio, I just went with it. Again, a male pseudonym seemed to be appropriate to the style of the writing.
 
Acknowledging there are women who write action-centric Westerns (as opposed to cowboy romances), but comparatively, the genre is almost exclusively the domain of male authors. Has this been a challenge in any way, or have other Western authors and fans been accepting and supportive?

I have been wholeheartedly supported by peers since deciding to write a violent action-centric Western series. The response to the first Maggie O'Bannen book has been very positive. To have the writer of a successful series suggest Maggie would give one if his hard-boiled characters a run for his money was mind-blowing praise. The reviews so far have been good. The fact I'm a woman doesn't seem to matter.

Have you been to the West, and if not, how do you do your research
 
I’ve been to America a few times, but never to the West. Research has been a lifelong project and is ongoing. It started off with visits to the library and reference books before the Internet. Now my research is mostly done via the Internet, although, I do have a few reference books on my shelves at home I delve into when needed. These days, I also find fellow authors are a good source of information.
 
Is there any difference between Westerns written by British writers and Westerns written by homegrown American writers?
 
Not to me personally. I read Westerns written by British, Australian, and American authors and enjoy them equally.
 
Do you currently read Westerns, and if so, who are your favorite Western authors?
 
I pretty much only read Westerns. The ones cropping up week after week on my Kindle are John Benteen (Sundance, Fargo), Neil Hunter (Bodie), Ben Bridges (O’Brien) and relative newcomer—and friend—Brent Towns, who writes under the pseudonyms BS Dunn, Jake Henry and Sam Clancy.
 
Do you have a writing mentor?
 
I don’t think so, although, I do have good friends amongst my peers who allow me to pick their brains and blow off steam from time to time. They also keep me motivated because I’m a very lazy writer.
 
When you start writing a new Western, do you pick a standard Western plot—I think there are about six—and look for a way to turn it on its head, or do you look to history or some other source for inspiration?
 
Yes and no. Usually it’s something I’ve seen (TV, film) or read (news, fiction) that gives me a light bulb moment. Usually because it’s sent my mind off at a tangent wondering what if after the story ended, or just because it would be interesting or challenging to write it in a different way. For example Ghosts of Bluewater Creek is essentially a revenge Western, but I thought, what if the opening is the traditional gunfight ending and we see what happens from there. Other times, I can come up with a character I’d like to write and then decide what situations to throw them in to. Once or twice, I’ve had a scene in mind, maybe an ending, and written the story around it. I’m really quite random in my approach.
 
Where do you stand on indy versus small press versus traditional publishing?
 
Indy, as in self-publishing, I’m not keen on. My experience of reading it has been the editing is often poor, which for me as a reader is a deal breaker. Small press, like Hale/Crowood and Piccadilly, have been very easy to deal with and seem to get it right most of the time in terms of quality for the reader and lead times for the author. Traditional publishing is outside my experience, so I can’t comment.
 
What is your latest Western and what are you currently writing?
 
Maggie O’Bannen 1: Days of Evil, written under the pseudonym Joe Slade and published by Piccadilly Publishing, is my latest release. Essentially, Maggie is a victim who has the chance to take control of her life and grabs it with both hands. To survive, she has to dig deep and rely on new friends to help her survive and vice versa. As with all my stories, there is a strong sense of friendship and loyalty. However, in contrast to books I’ve written under the pseudonym Terry James, this series doesn’t pull any punches. Thanks to Piccadilly Publishing, I’ve been able to step well outside my comfort zone and unleash my inner maniac. The feedback I’ve received so far has been very positive and I’m currently writing the second book, tentatively titled Wanted: Dead.
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Thanks to Jo for stopping by and sharing her experiences.
 
TO FOLLOW JO ON THE WEB CLICK HERE

4 comments:

  1. Thank you for taking the time to ask me a few questions, Paul. I enjoy reading all your articles and I'm honoured to be included among them. Jo

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  2. Great interview, thanks, both; good to see you here, Jo! Cakes and sandwiches sound good. I'll be looking up Maggie anon.

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  3. If Jo is half as good a writer as she was an editor, she'll go far.

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  4. Thanks for for the kind comments.

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